As Shade and I walked through the deserted hallway toward the infirmary, we didn’t speak. He didn’t ask me about what went on with Snow; the only indication he was ever mildly curious was the few glances I caught him throwing my way. Other than that, he let me keep my secrets. For that, I was somewhat grateful.
Being next to him made my wolf lie down inside me, content. She already realized patience was needed in order to stalk him properly, and while both of us craved his touch, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to be granted this privilege. Shade was not a man who let anyone touch him without permission.
It made me wonder about how he came to be this way. I’d suspected he had a dark past, but now I felt like it was far worse than that. A nagging feeling in my soul appeared whenever I thought about how he got his scars and what he must’ve gone through. His past was not pretty, of that I was sure. It might also be sinister. And I didn’t know if I would be able to handle the truth when the time came and he told me, if I’d ever get him to tell me anything.
Still, it was a problem I put away for the time being. First, I needed to get this thing with Reyna over with. Second, I needed to plunge fully into my plan of seducing the fuck out of my mate. Then, I would think about conquering both his and my demons.
For now, I needed to be the West Coast Pack healer.
Arriving the infirmary, I pushed open the door and found Eliza making some hot cocoa in the small kitchen. When she saw me, she answered my unasked question. “The little queen is awake. She asked for something warm to drink.”
I nodded at her. “I’ll take it to her. I need to have some words with her.”
Peeking at Shade, who loomed over, hanging behind me, Eliza blushed. She then quickly finished up the hot cocoa, brought the cup over to me, mumbled a few words, and left. I chuckled a little, giving Shade a mirthful look. “Eliza only gets all bashful around hot guys. Guess she thinks you’re hot.”
Shade’s jungle eyes were not amused. “I don’t give a fuck about what women think of me.”
My grin died down. “By women you mean me as well?”
He cocked his head, giving me an odd look. “The drink’s getting cold.”
Scowling at his non-answer, I harrumphed and walked toward the room I knew Reyna stayed in. Shade walked behind me and while there was a fine distance between us, I swear I could feel his heat against my back. It made me shiver a little.
Goddamn him. How come I was the only one affected by this whole thing?
Throwing the door open, I entered Reyna’s room, Shade right behind me, closing the door once he was inside as well. The young girl was already sitting, and her gaze snapped to me. She was a beautiful girl, turning into an even more stunning woman; her eyes were an emerald green, her hair a muss of chestnut waves and curls, her skin a flawless ivory and light freckles decorating her finely-featured face. She would’ve looked regal if her expression wasn’t so grim and brooding.
Coming over, I took the seat next to her bed and put the cup on the nightstand. “Drink. It’ll make you feel better.”
She didn’t move. “What did you to do me?”
Shade leaned against the wall, folded his arms, and watched calmly, as if bracing himself for a storm. I guess I should prepare myself as well. Reyna was not an easy person to get along with. Usually I didn’t have a problem with her; she’d been nice enough to me, even showing some respect because of my title and what I did for this pack. But now I could see that respect waning and no niceness was coming through.
She was wary of me. As she should be. But so was I wary of her. As I should be. When our gazes caught, a silent conversation seemed to take place. I don’t trust you, hers said, but I’ll play it civil for now. To that, I replied, Likewise.
“First,” I said, “why don’t we start with why you ran away, who hurt you, and how?”
Her scowl deepened and she snatched the cup of hot cocoa, sipping it. “Why should I tell you any of this?” she inquired archly.
“Because,” I replied calmly, “I’m the head healer, and you’re my patient, the one, need I remind you, I healed.” Against all odds, I wanted to add but didn’t. It wasn’t about me now. “I need to know what exactly happened to you so I can reassess everything that went through when I healed you, and then discharge you. And I’m sure you want to be discharged.”
She threw me a typical teenage-angst filthy look. “Fuck you, Daisy. I don’t owe you anything.”
“But then you do,” I said, my voice turning cold. I severed my expression as well. Leaning forward, I said lowly, “we live in a magical world, Reyna. If we were ordinary humans, me saving your life wouldn’t leave you indebted to me. But neither of us are ordinary. I’m a werewolf, and you’re not so human.”
Reyna and Anya were the last descendants of a long bloodline of Born vampires. They were linked to Eve’s brother, Solomon Knox, through long generations. I didn’t know if the girls knew anything about that, but one thing they did know; Reyna was showing some not so humanly powers that might mark her as a different kind of target sooner than all of us believed. The would-be queen was aware of that. So were everyone else.
“So, what are you saying here?” she asked, seeming none too pleased with this information.
“What I’m saying is, in the magical world, life debts count,” I told her. It wasn’t the exact truth, but it wasn’t a lie either. But the meaning was clear; Reyna was indebted to me, and so she, in fact, owed me.
She snarled. “Fuck you.”
“You said that already, but it wouldn’t make the situation any better,” I said coolly, “now, I’ll forget about this life debt if you just tell me what happened.”
The girl glared at me. I stared back. She let out a curse, before her face suddenly turned tired, as if she no longer had the power to remain angry. “I’m sorry, Daisy,” she said softly, looking down at her half-empty cup. “I didn’t mean to cuss. And I didn’t mean to be so goddamn rude. You saved me, after all.”
I was surprised at the sudden change of hearts, but while I let myself relax, I also kept my guard up. Something here wasn’t right. “It’s fine.”
“Please,” she looked at me, her eyes pleading. “I’ll do anything else, anything, if you just let me keep what happened to myself.”
She was trying to play me for a fool. I got it now. And it made ugly suspicion crawl into my stomach. “If the person who attacked you is a threat to anyone in this pack, not to mention the pack as a whole, you have to tell me.”
“He’s not, I promise,” she said, begging.
So it was a man who attacked her. “Will you swear your family on that?” I inquired, narrowing my eyes.
She blanched, and I could see her swallow. “Yes.”
Something here was definitely not right, and I began feeling that it might be connected to someone in this pack. The mole theory had been brought up a few times ever since the Hunters’ attack, but no one looked deeper into it. Maybe it was time they did. Because this thing with Reyna shouldn’t have happened.
Giving the girl one last look, I sighed. “Fine. Don’t tell me. I’m not your caretaker anyway.” I’d leave this to Eve to figure out. “But I do need you to pay me back for saving your life, so here’s what I’m ordering you to do, and it’s not open to negotiation.” I grabbed her shoulder and made sure her eyes were focused on me.
“I don’t know what you felt when I healed you,” I said softly, as lowly as I could so Shade would only be able to glimpse a few words and not all of them, “but I’m going with a hunch that I actually do know.” If it was anything like it was with Daphne, I was pretty sure I knew. “You won’t, under any circumstances, hurt yourself deliberately. You won’t seek me out to heal you in this way again, no matter what. You will forget about that feeling, about the entire incident of me healing you. And lastly, you won’t speak of it to anyone else, no matter what.” I paused, reading her eyes to make sure she got it. “I expect you to pull it off, because you owe me your life, Reyna. Without me, you’d be buried ten feet in the ground. Are we clear?”
Her tired, pleading expression dissolved into a dark one. “Just for the record, I don’t like you anymore and after this, I don’t owe you a thing. Yes, we’re clear.”
“Good,” I took my hand off her and rose to my feet. “Glad we settled that. You’ll be discharged by tomorrow morning.”
With this, I took off, Shade behind me, not saying a word.
“Raphael and Gabriel put up an emergency meeting in fifteen minutes at the lounge,” Shade said when we went to the kitchen to grab a bite. I hadn’t eaten anything and since I was still recharging, my body required energy refill.
And I was fucking starved.
“I need some food before I can face them all,” I said, groaning, as I started making myself some coffee. “You want some?” I asked him. I was suddenly hit by the realization I didn’t know anything about what he liked; how he drank his coffee, what food he preferred. Did he like pizza? He’d better be. Pizza was a very important part of my life and I couldn’t have a mate who didn’t like it.
“I drink black, no sugar or milk,” he replied curtly. I went on to prepare it for him alongside mine. “And you don’t need to face them. You just need to comply.”
I threw him a filthy look, imitating the one Reyna gave me earlier. “They’re going to grill me alive. Why I was at the Red Market, how I did what I did with Reyna, blah, blah, blah.”
“Eve said she let you off the hook with the Red Market,” Shade pointed out, “so all you’d have to answer is about Reyna. Which I’m also quite curious about.” He gave me a piercing gaze that made my spine tense. “How exactly did you do that?”
Looking away, I focused on preparing the coffee. “Why would I tell you?”
I felt him moving closer until he was leaning with his side against the counter, his arms folded. Just him being so close made my lady parts come to life. “Because I asked.”
A very unfeminine snort left me. “You don’t tell me anything, so why should I?”
A low growl filled the terse air between us, and I froze. “There’s a major difference between you and me, Luxford,” he said, his voice low and warning, “I’m your superior in every aspect that matters. You can’t push me around. I’m not obliged to tell you anything, but you are.”
Anger sparked in my head and, finishing up the coffee, I turned to face him. I didn’t realize how close we were until I did; he was so tall, much taller than me, that he was practically towering over me. His eyes were an alarming jungle, wild enough to let me know his wolf was in on this conversation, too. “Last time I checked, you weren’t my alpha,” I said quietly, leveling him with a dominant gaze of my own, “I don’t answer to you, and you have no power over me.”
He stepped closer, his hands falling to his sides. There were only mere inches between us. “I’m the Delta of the Millennium,” he reminded me, “and that means I can overrule even alphas if I’d like.”
My eyes narrowed and I had to tilt my head back so I would still look at him. Sometimes I hated being short. “Healers only answer to their direct alphas.”
Then, a staring match ensued, and I found myself getting lost in his eyes. I never knew eyes could have so many colors in them; his weren’t just green, but they were mixed with streaks of blue, brown, even silver here and there. And he looked so good, his golden skin probably delectable, and I wanted to just lean in and take a whiff, lick, bite, mark...
“You have one question you can ask me. After that, you’ll answer mine.”
His voice barely pierced my sudden lust haze. It only added to the allure I was getting from him. But I had to obey, because I had to ask... “Do you like pizza?”
And I popped the bubble I was in. Blinking, I found him looking at me in surprise, and I found myself flushing in embarrassment, thinking about my question. No way. No fucking way I just wasted my only chance to get some serious answer from him by asking him about his like or dislike regarding pizza. I mean, sure, it was a very important thing for me, but not more important than asking him about the serious stuff!
My humiliation was multiplied when, for the first time since I met him, Shade’s lips curled into the smallest of grins. My heart pounded loudly in my ears at the sight, and he looked even more gorgeous. And I made him grin. It was small and others might overlook it, but I didn’t. It was a grin. It was small, beautiful grin Shade never showed anyone, but did show me now.
Mortification was worth it if I got him to grin for me.
“Yes,” he replied, grin still intact, making my head swim, “I like pizza.”
And I liked him. A lot. And because I liked him a lot my hand got a life of its own and almost ruined the moment by touching his cheek. I caught in time and lowered it, then I forced myself to look away from his grin, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to keep staring at his grin. I wanted to kiss this grin.
But I couldn’t. Patience, patience.
Grabbing the cup of coffee, my cheeks still flaming, I handed it over to him. As he took it, his fingers brushed mine and I almost sighed at the contact. Then, fixating on my own cup of coffee, I mumbled, “Good. It’s good you like it. Pizza, I mean.”
He was quiet. I couldn’t take it anymore; I glanced at him. He was watching me as he sipped his coffee, no longer grinning, but that didn’t bother me; I could still see that grin in my mind. And his face wasn’t back to being blank and serious; it was more open now, and his body was actually relaxed as he again leaned with his side against the counter.
And here I was, a blushing mess, when I finally had a chance to breach some of his barriers even farther. “I like pizza, too,” I felt the need to inform him.
He nodded gravelly. “I figured.”
My blush deepened and I wanted to kick myself. “Do you like any topping?” I forced the words out.
He cocked his head. “I only allowed you one question.”
I shrugged. “It’s a required sub-question.”
“Agreed,” he nodded again, “I like mushrooms.”
And he ruined it. “No,” I shook my head, eyes widening in horror, “you did not just say you like mushroom on your pizza.”
Arching an eyebrow, he said, “I just did.”
“But... no! Just no!” I gave him a horrified look. “Mushrooms do not go well with pizza. If you need to put something on top of it, try anything but mushrooms.”
“What do you have against mushrooms?” he frowned in confusion.
“I have nothing against mushrooms,” I huffed, “but on pizza? Yuck!”
“So what would you rather have as topping?” he inquired, unfazed.
“Pepperoni, of course!” I gave him the obvious answer.
He leveled a condescending gaze on me. “You have no taste.”
I gaped at him. “Said the mushroom boy!” I accused, aghast.
Then, for my shock, he grinned fully, and it transformed his entire face. From simply gorgeous he became... wow. My eyes glazed over and I think I drooled a little, our argument momentarily forgotten. He put his empty cup in the sink, grabbed my barely touched one there as well, and turned around, hiding the amazing grin of his from me. “We’ll be late for the meeting, Luxford.”
And, as he began walking and I trailed on behind him, I found myself smiling. I made the broody Shade grin. Fully grin, too.
For the first time since I decided on fighting for him, I felt a glimmer of hope.